MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. — It used to save lives. Now it delivers music.
When Nick Dye saw a 1986 Ford ambulance for sale on Facebook Marketplace in August 2018, the musical wheels in his head started turning.
He and his life partner, Christine Ingaldson, make up the electronic music duo Zetsumetsu. When they realized they could start playing music and telling stories out of a refurbished ambulance, they didn’t pass it up.
Ingaldson’s ethos for the vehicle is: “Taking art down roads less traveled.”
”This entire vehicle is our art,” Dye told The Journal Times, referring to it as a “sculpture on wheels.”
The Mount Pleasant couple named the ambulance MOTR (pronounced “motor”), short for Modular on the Rescue: “On the Rescue” referring to the ambulance; “Modular” referring to modular synthesizers, the type of homemade synthesizers Zetsumetsu plays.
Through online tutorials and connecting with professionals at Milwaukee-based Modular Addict Synth-DIY, Ingaldson and Dye have slowly built up their electronic knowledge. Dye has now built synths out of less conventional objects, like a glass jar and a baby-doll head — it looks like something you might find in Sid’s room in the animated film “Toy Story.”
”We like reusing things and we have a very big DIY work ethic. From synthesizers to repairing the ambulance, we try to do as much as we can with whatever resources we can find,” Dye said. “I always wanted to get into electronics when I was younger. But growing up, we didn’t have YouTube and we didn’t have Google. So, my access to this information was very limited.”
Both halves of Zetsumetsu work day jobs to fund their musical endeavors. But they also received an $800 Racine Arts Council ArtSeed grant, funded by Real Racine, last spring that helped close the monetary gaps.
”Our long-term goal with MOTR: We want it to not only be a storytelling vehicle, but have it also be a DIY-learning vehicle,” Dye said.
They want to start hosting workshops out of the ambulance, where curious and interested people can learn how to make a synth for themselves. The glass jar Dye built can be completed in less than an hour, and is also a “cool toy” to take home. It’s light sensitive. So by pointing a flashlight at the jar from different angles, it will make different sounds.
”It’s just so fun,” Ingaldson said.
On a recent Saturday, Ingaldson (who goes by the name “Flutter” in her solo musical projects) and Dye (who goes by “Zetsumei”) were set to perform as Zetsumetsu at a Dia de los Muertos celebration at Kenosha Creative Space in Kenosha.
It would be MOTR’s first live gig, although its owners are experienced performers.
Dye and Ingaldson will be making their music inside the ambulance, but have a series of cameras set up inside that will be used to project their performance on a blank wall outside.
Ingaldson hopes to start hosting concerts in less-conventional and remote venues like abandoned parking lots, thanks to MOTR’s mobility as a venue.
When they bought the ambulance, Ingaldson and Dye were almost too excited to realize the amount of work that was needed. It leaked. The engine was effectively useless in its current state. And it wasn’t really equipped to carry musical instruments.
”We did not realize the level of poor condition this ambulance was in,” Dye said.
They connected with Noconnoco Price, the owner of Goodwheel Service Center, 2100 Rapids Drive, across the street from Horlick High School.
With the ambulance’s massive engine — Price called it a “Big Block 4 460” — simply working on it and clearing out the gunk was a hardship.
”Everything is crammed into what is called a doghouse,” Price recalled. “Getting it cleaned out was by far our biggest challenge.”
There was rust everywhere. And because so many ambulances are custom-repaired over their years of service, there were not any schematics available to help Price figure out what was necessary and what could be removed in the mess of wires under the hood.
”It’s actually a good strong motor and fun to work on. We like working on classic cars,” Price said. “Even though this was an ambulance, it’s really the same theory.”
In September, MOTR wasn’t even able to get to a gas station on its own. But, since mid-October, it is up and running again — thanks to Price’s handiwork, and Dye’s and Ingaldson’s collective patience. Now, MOTR was ready for its first live gig.